Tag: virginia

Sunday Beer Sales and Bad Public Policy

300_595151In their infinite wisdom, our board of supervisors has decided the way out of our county’s financial squeeze (we’re the 2nd poorest county in Virginia) is to allow beer and wine sales on Sundays.  One supervisor commented tonight, “This isn’t about religion, it’s about economics.”

I would agree.  I don’t think Christians can make a credible case any longer for Sunday blue laws.  Blue laws restrict goods that may be bought and sold on Sundays here in Virginia, as they do in many states, although fewer now than in past years.

Baptists say we believe in the separation of church and state, and if we do, we should not look to the state — or county — to protect Sundays.   Our blue laws don’t protect the Jewish sabbath, or the Seventh-Day Adventist day of worship, so why should Christians get special treatment from the government, local or otherwise?  No, I don’t think we can make a civil case for keeping blue laws.

But we can make an economic case.  The assumption our supervisors are making is that Sunday sales of beer and wine will generate more tax revenue for our struggling county.  However, let’s take a closer look at this assumption:

1.  The supervisors don’t really know how much revenue this will generate.  No economic impact study has been done, probably because the county can’t afford it.

2.  No one has considered the economic cost of allowing beer and wine sales on Sunday.  Adding one more day per week increases the opportunity to buy beer and wine by more than 15%.  Will our county supervisors also increase the sheriff’s department budget by 15% to put more deputies in patrol cars on Sundays?  Will the supervisors increase the budgets of local rescue squads and fire departments who respond to car wrecks?  Do we know what percentage of car accidents, domestic abuse cases, and child abuse cases involve alcohol?  And, are we going to increase the budgets of all those agencies by 15% to handle the potential increase?

3.  The state of Virginia previously did not allow alcohol sales on election day, presumably so that our citizens can make clear-headed voting decisions.  Apparently that’s changed now.  However, the current law does not allow alcohol sales statewide on Sundays (except urban municipalities over 100,000, but only after 1 PM), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.  Why not establish one day a week, Sunday or not, to stop alcohol sales just to give us all a breather from the problems associated with alcohol?  We regulate who can purchase alcohol, where it can be sold, in what types of containers and quantities, and the tax on alcohol sales.  Why not regulate the days on which it is sold on a regular basis?

4.  Finally, our county is not a destination for tourists or those seeking recreation.  The only people needing to buy alcohol on Sundays are most likely the ones who have problems with it in the first place.  Just like state lotteries, alcohol sales are geared to those who can least afford it.  Our county already has a higher than average rate of substance abuse, and a long culture of alcohol-related crime, including bootlegging.

I agree with our esteemed county supervisor — this isn’t about religion.  It is about economics.  I just wish our supervisors would do their homework before trying to buffalo us with their new-found concern for “keeping our shopping dollars in Pittsylvania county.”

Lifting the ban on Sunday beer and wine sales without assessing the impact is bad public policy, economic or otherwise.  I for one plan to oppose their efforts.  What do you think?

Jesus on death row

Thursday night the commonwealth of Virginia executed Christopher Scott Emmett. Emmett was convicted in the 2001 bludgeoning murder of his co-worker Mr. Langley. Apparently Mr. Emmett was guilty. It took a jury less than an hour to convict him. Mr. Emmett killed for his victim’s wallet — so he could buy crack cocaine. One of those crimes that brings the phrase “senseless violence” to mind.

In an aside that reporters use to fill out a story when the editor needs more copy, the writer noted in the last paragraph of the article:

Virginia has executed 102 people since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, second only to Texas.

My state is the runner-up in capital punishment in the US. I’m not sure that’s a distinction we want to bear with pride. Then, there is the other global comparison that ranks the US fourth after China, Iran, and Viet Nam in numbers of prisoners executed. Again, not company we aspire to keep.

While I realize there is a lot of disagreement on the issue of capital punishment, it seems to me that followers of Christ would oppose capital punishment on the grounds that Jesus himself was an innocent victim of the Roman Empire’s capital punishment system. When we think of Jesus’ death, not as a theological doctrine, but as capital punishment gone wrong, it casts a different light on the subject.

Of course, Mr. Emmett does not appear to be an innocent victim. And to make matters worse, Emmett seemed rather flippant and unrepentant before his execution. But, I can’t help thinking of Jesus’ short stay on death row. Is this the best solution we have to society’s problems? What do you think? Have you addressed the issue of capital punishment with your congregation? What responses did your church members have to this issue? I’d be interested to know.

Why I wear a robe

Last week I postedDebbie and me (in my robe), and a special guest, on our church’s 150th anniversary my thoughts about Preaching from the Lectionary.  I ended that article by saying that not only did this Baptist preacher take his text from the revised common lectionary, but I also preached in a robe.  Well, the robe-thing apparently intrigued a couple of readers who asked that I elaborate. 

Why do I preach in a robe?  This Baptist in the free church tradition?  Here’s why:

  1. I like wearing a robe.  Mine is a black academic gown with black velvet panels — very plain, but nice.  About 20-years ago I started wearing a black robe for weddings, which eliminates having to be fitted for a tux.  I had worn robes on special occasions, but never regularly until 2003, when I was the interim pastor of a United Methodist church.  They wanted me to wear a robe, and I wore one every Sunday. 
  2. Wearing a robe eliminates wardrobe problems.  Remember Janet Jackson’s infamous Superbowl “wardrobe failure?” I no longer have to worry if my tie is too bright, my shirt is untucked, or my zipper is …you guessed it.  “A robe,” as they say, “covers a multitude of sins.”
  3. A minister’s robe fits our worship.  Okay, this is where I start to get serious.  We worship in an old Victorian Gothic sanctuary built in 1890.  We have a pipe organ and choir in a real loft (8-feet above the pulpit), and our worship style is Virginia traditional.  Lots of Baptist preachers in Virginia wear robes, which might be a holdover from Virginia’s Episcopal past. 
  4. We observe the Christian Year.  The stoles of different colors — white, red, purple, and green — that I wear on appropriate Sundays help us mark the passing of the Christian Year. 
  5. Our church likes for the pastor to wear a robe.  If the church objected, I wouldn’t wear a robe.  But several church members suggested that I renew a practice followed by several former pastors. 

So, there you are — my five reasons for wearing a robe.  There may be more, but that’s probably enough for a Sunday night.